The Arizona State Sun Devils entered the 2018 season with minimal expectations. With a first-year head coach and a young, inexperienced defense Sun Devil fans were optimistic about the future but expected some growing pains in the interim.
Then they upset the No. 15 Michigan State Spartans on a memorable September night to remain unbeated against the Big 10 in Tempe. ASU then fell flat and were beaten in close road contests by both San Diego State and Washington.
At 3-2 with the Pac-12 South title still within reach, the Sun Devils must do something they’ve yet to do in the Herm Edwards era.
Win away from Sun Devil Stadium.
Now they matchup with the undefeated No. 21 Colorado Buffaloes, who have coasted through their schedule. Folsom Field can be a daunting trip for opposing teams, and Edwards knows ASU must find a way to take the raucous crowd out of the game.
“They get after it, they’re loud in there and that’s the best part about going on the road,” Edwards said. “You’ve got to deal with that.”
A large part of ASU’s road troubles has been inconsistency. The defense couldn’t contain SDSU’s running game in their first loss, and the passing game was no where to be found against Washington.
Junior wide receiver N’Keal Harry’s underwhelming performances on the road has been a big issue for ASU. Harry has only 106 receiving yards and one touchdown outside of Tempe. Both the SDSU and Washington defenses did a good job of taking him out of the equation, but he’s Arizona State’s best weapon on offense. And must improve his play in order to win on the road.
“We can’t have those San Diego State’s and Washington games where we play well in the first quarter and then get lackadaisical in the second and third quarters,” Harry said. “To win road games, especially in the Pac-12 you have to put together complete games.”
How can ASU play a complete game against Colorado? It starts with being able to run the football, and the Sun Devils have shown that it’s priority number one for the offense. Offensive coordinator Rob Likens knows that teams will see that on film, and it will be up to the Sun Devil offense to run the ball even when the opponent knows it’s coming.
“We are going to get a team that’s very well coached, very well skilled on defending what we have put on film already,” Likens said. “The biggest thing about Colorado is they’re going to be ready to play. They do a phenomenal job of not giving you those little gifts.”
The defense has been a mixed bag on the road as well. They allowed more than 300 yards on the ground against SDSU, and at times were gashed by Jake Browning and the UW passing game.
Defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales knows that his unit is very young, but doesn’t believe it excuses the mental errors that ASU displayed against Oregon State last Saturday.
For ASU to have success against Colorado and regain control of their destiny in the South division they will need to shut down their opponent’s running game.
If they’re unable to, Sun Devil fans will once again be forced to hope for better things in the future.